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Freydís Eiríksdóttir (born c. 970) was a Norse woman said to be the daughter of Erik the Red (as in her patronym), who figured prominently in the Norse exploration of North America as an early colonist of Vinland, which her brother, Leif Erikson, is credited in early histories of the region with discovering. The only medieval and primary sources that mention Freydís are the two Vinland sagas: the The Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik the Red. The two sagas offer differing accounts, though Freydís is portrayed in both as a masculine, strong-willed woman who would defy the odds of her society.
Saga of the Greenlanders
The Saga of the Greenlanders is a crude version of the accounts that happened in Vinland. Freydís's experiences in Vinland are relayed in Chapter 8 of this saga, which describes her as Leif Erikson's full sister. This is the most famous account we have of Freydís.
After expeditions to Vinland led by Leif Erikson, Þorvaldr Eiríksson and Þorfinnr Karlsefni met with some success, Freydís wanted the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She made a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half-and-half. Freydís asked her brother Leif Erikson for permission to use the homes and stables that he had built in Vinland. He agreed that they all could use the houses. Helgi and Finnbogi agreed that they would bring the same number of men and supplies as Freydis, but Freydís smuggled more men into her ship. Helgi and Finnbogi, arriving early, took refuge in the houses; when Freydís arrived, she ordered the brothers to move, as the houses were her brother's and meant for her. This was the first of many disagreements between Freydís and the brothers.
In Vinland, there was tension between the two groups. Helgi and Finnbogi set up a settlement separate from Freydis and her crew. Freydis eventually went to the brothers' hut and asked how they were faring. "Well," responded the brothers; "but we do not like this ill-feeling that has sprung up between us." The two sides made peace.
When she returned to her husband, Freydís claimed that Helgi and Finnbogi had beaten her, and, calling him a coward, demanded that he exact revenge on her behalf, or else she would divorce him. He gathered his men and killed Helgi and Finnbogi as well as the men in their camp when they were sleeping. When he refused to kill the five women in the camp, Freydís herself picked up an axe and massacred them.
Freydís, to conceal her treachery, threatened death to anyone who told of the killings. She went back to Greenland after a year's stay and told her brother Leif Eiriksson that Helgi and Finnbogi had decided to stay in Vinland. However, word of the killings eventually reached Leif. He had three men from Freydís's expedition tortured until they confessed the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds, Leif still did not want "to do that to Freydís, my sister, which she has deserved." However, he remarked that he foresaw Freydís' descendants having little prosperity. The saga concludes that everyone thought ill of her descendants afterwards.
Saga of Erik the Red
The Saga of Erik the Red was written after the The Saga of the Greenlanders. This saga portrays Freydís as a fearless and protective Viking warrior, the half-sister to Leif Erikson. She joined an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni, but is only mentioned once in the saga when the expedition was attacked by natives (also known as the Skræling in Icelandic). The natives, equipped with "war-slings, or catapults,": 29 stealthily attacked the expedition's camp at night and shot at the warriors.
Many of the Nordic invaders panicked, having never seen such weaponry. As men fled during the confusion, Freydís, who was eight months pregnant, admonished them, saying: "Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon, I know I could fight better than any of you.": 29
Ignored, Freydís picked up the sword of the fallen Thorbrand Snorrisson: 29 and engaged the attacking natives. Surrounded by enemies, she undid her garment and beat the sword upon her breast.: 29 At this the natives retreated to their boats and fled. Karlsefni and the other survivors praised her zeal.: 30
In popular culture
- In 2015, Icelandic artist Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir and Spanish writer Salva Rubio published Vinland: La Saga de Freydís Eiríksdóttir, an illustrated book telling the story of Freydís Eiríksdottir.
- Joan Clark's 2002 historical fiction novel Eriksdottir: A Tale of Dreams and Luck features Freydís as the main character.
- Australian children's author Jackie French used Freydís as one of her characters in her 2005 novel They Came on Viking Ships.
- The blog-turned-book Rejected Princesses spotlighted Freydís in one of its posts.
- William Vollmann's novel, The Ice Shirt, is a speculative novel partly about Freydís in Vinland.
- Freydís' story is told in first person point of view in Forest Child, the second book of the Vikings of the New World Saga by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016).
- Katia Winter portrayed Freydís in the superhero TV series DC's Legends of Tomorrow episodes "Beebo the God of War" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly".
- Freydis is a main character in Johanna Valkama's historic novel The Red Queen (Finnish: Jäävuonon Ruusu), which tells of her journey to Vinland.
- In the novel Daughter of a Thousand Years by Amalia Carosella, Freydís is the center of one of two timelines and is romantically involved with Thor, who takes the form of a man named Sonnung.
- Freydis is the primary antagonist in the novel Spirits of the Ice Forest by Australian author Max Davine
- A limited-mintage two-ounce silver coin was issued for the South Pacific island country of Niue was announced in May 2021, depicting Freydis storming ashore from a longship
- The 2019 novel Civilisations by Laurent Binet opens with a fictional saga of Freydis. The novel presents an alternate reality where Freydis and her crew sail down the American continent and interact with a plethora of mesoamerican cultures; introducing ironworking, advanced shipbuilding, and old world diseases. The result is the later Incan emperor Atahualpa having the means to reverse colonise Europe and introduce Incan religion, with Thor added to the pantheon of Inca gods.
- Kunz, Keneva (2001). trans. "The Saga of the Greenlanders." The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. London: Penguin. pp. 648–52.
- J. Sephton (1880). Eirik the Red's Saga: A Translation. Liverpool: D. Marples & Co.
- "Nuevo libro ilustrado sobre vikingos: Vinland New illustrated book about vikings: Vinland |". Salvarubio.info. 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
- Rubio, Salva and Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir, Vinland: La Saga de Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Thule Eds, 2015, ISBN 978-84-15357-68-1[page needed]
- Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1-85065-420-4.
- Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044154-9. First ed. 1965.
- Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
- Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100003-1
- Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1991)